It’s time to die.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is…Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away (Col. 3:1, 5-8)
There is no getting around this. In the same way an alcoholic wanting freedom must radically reorganize his or her life, the person struggling with sexual sin must do the same. Jesus said that if there is something in our lives that causes us to sin, to take a scalpel to it (Matt. 18:9). Be ruthless, Jesus says, in your pursuit of purity. Half-measures will get you nothing.
The old nature will not go without a fight. For a time it will seem like the most unnatural thing in the world to deny yourself the thing you crave. The enemy will whisper all sorts of lies to you, seeking to convince you that you don’t have what it takes to win this battle, that just “one more time” won’t hurt, that tomorrow is a new day to start over, or even talk you out of your conviction that this is sin. If you are like me, these trials will seem impossible to bear, particularly if you are not used to saying no to Self. This is a battle for your heart, and it feels so hard and strange because the Holy Spirit is calling you out of death. Before, when you were dead in the old man, your conscious was seared. Pleasing Self came as naturally as breathing and we had many fellow breathers, breathing the same air, telling us all is well.
Remember, Scripture promises that trial will come and we should consider them joys!
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4)
You are being fashioned and formed into the image of Christ. God does this for His children (Heb. 12:6). Reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ, and choose to crucify the flesh. I promise to you the struggle you feel is the dying gasps of a dead man, kicking and screaming for a right to speak. You will either give it another breath, allowing it to grow stronger, or you will bury it for good. It will not always be as hard as it is today. It won’t be long before you find yourself overwhelmed by the realization that it’s been months since you last even felt the urge or desire to gratify yourself and you’ll be washed anew by a sense of God’s power and presence in your life, and the newness of it all. There’s nothing like it, friend. It’s freedom unlike you’ve never known before.
Do you want that? Then you will have to take some drastic steps.
1. Starve the Pathos
For some, a complete detox is necessary. Sex, unlike alcohol or other drugs, is everywhere. An alcoholic can keep drink out of the house and avoid going into bars but the man or woman controlled by lust is in danger the moment they open their eyes (and there is little reprieve in their sleep, either). Therefore, removing oneself from all the triggers is sometimes an absolute must. And it is worth every sacrifice. I went away to a place called Pure Life Ministries and their Live-In program for 7 months and it saved my life, after years of trying everything else. If this is the sort of plan God is nudging you towards, don’t ignore it. Don’t write it off as impossible. I’d be happy to talk privately with anyone who wants more information about this route. If we made it with 5 kids and no money, you will too if God is calling you to this. (Pure Life also has an Over-Comers at Home program, one geared for both husbands and their wives).
In any event, it is absolutely imperative that you cut off the source of that which is causing you to stumble. Jesus said to gouge out the eye if it causes you to sin. Get real with yourself, the world you live in, and the things that trip you up and do something about it.
2. Kill The T.V
You just gotta. If you are struggling with lustful thoughts and images which lead you to self-gratify now and again, kill your TV for at least 3 months. We’ve been without one for 2 years and don’t miss it (a miracle in itself seeing as how we watched a lot of it). We have one TV in our house in our kid’s room that they use for cartoons and games, and we have a family movie night once a week. But that’s it. You will be surprised by how much life you’ve been missing by just this one thing!
Watching TV in and of itself is not sin, but if you are in bondage to any sort of lust than continuing to subject yourself to the “spirit of this world” found in TV shows and advertisements is to play with fire. Scripture says not to give the devil a foothold (Eph. 4:27). Purity won’t come by simply desiring to be pure without making any life-changes. I realize that for most Americans this is like asking them to give up their first-born child. You may be thinking this is impossible because your wife and/or kids will mutiny. And they might, at first. But you will be surprised what God will do with a family when you determine that you are going to get your life right before God and lead the way God has prescribed. Trust God to make a way for you and your family and count on the blessings that will follow with real quality time together, not to mention the absence of continual temptation being pumped into your home, lulling you to sleep.
3. Manage Your Music
What sort of music do you listen to? If it is not music glorifying God then chances are good it glorifies the flesh. The person caught up in self-gratification doesn’t need to fill their senses with others who are also self and/or lust absorbed, whether it be music or anything else. Ask yourself this: Does my music (and TV and reading consumption) pass the Phil 4:8 test?
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
If Jesus were having coffee with you right now and wanted to listen to some music, what would you play? Would Jesus be blessed by your playlist?
2 years ago I would have scoffed at such advice. You sound like a fundamentalist! I would have sneered. My mockery was a veiled attempt to hide my own powerlessness and bondage, as well as my own refusal to die to myself. Forget about labels and what following this advice might sound like to others. Your best thinking has gotten you to where you currently are. Remember, God doesn’t want to make you better, He wants to make you new. Freedom does not come without a price. What is it worth to you?
4. Interrupt the Internet
The internet has opened up a world of fantasy for the person who struggles with sexual sin. I don’t think I need to tell you how easy it is to access things that are not going to be good for your sanctification. If you must be on the internet for work or school then it’s essential to install a filter and/or accountability software on your computer(s) which lets someone you select to get weekly (even immediate) updates of sites you visit (see XXXChurch for some free resources. Covenant Eyes is another good one which I’ve used in the past).
While it’s easy to point out the dangers of pornography that the internet makes readily available, there is another, and in some ways even more sinister predator lurking:
The sin of self-gratification is a symptom of pride. Lust of any kind has at it’s root the sin of PRIDE, which sets the Self at center stage and insists on having what it wants, when it wants it, how it wants it. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., are prime vehicles for stroking our egos and fanning the flame of pride in all of us, which doesn’t need much of a breeze to spread into a raging fire. While these things can all be used for good, for the person ensnared in self-gratification it can be a severe stumbling block. If you are someone who loves to debate, loves to have your opinion be heard (and thinks the world will somehow implode without it), loves to check to see how many “likes” or “retweets” your blog or idea generates, then friend, you have a battle with pride to fight.
Interrupt this madness. Unplug. I did it for over a year and it made a world of difference. While I use it sparingly today, I still take time to unplug completely (during Lent, for instance) to ensure my pride is kept in check.
5. Guard Your Go’s
There are some places a person who struggles with lust doesn’t need to go. Some places have far more visual stimuli than others and you need to take account of the sort of places you go that trigger your flesh. Malls are one example. Pools and beaches are another. My family has gathered at the beach every summer for vacation since I was a young boy. This past summer, after I had graduated from Pure Life, Amy and I opted not to join the family for vacation. It was a wise choice for us. And I’m convinced it spared me from losing whatever gains I had made in my spiritual growth over the previous 7 months. My purity and my faithfulness to both God and my family are worth far more to me than a week at a beach.
This list is far from exhaustive and perhaps you have some others you’d like to add. Please share! But cutting corners on the above by justifying why this or that is actually OK in your life will prevent you from achieving the freedom you seek and need. Be decisive. Be the surgeon on sin Jesus commands.
It’s time to die. But Jesus does amazing things through death!
In the last and final post on this series we will examine the other crucial component: Putting on Christ. If you just take off the above you will be left naked and vulnerable. Stay tuned for the fun, life-giving stuff.
Praying with and for you,